AVEKA is a contract manufacturing, research and development company that focuses on particle technology for a broad range of applications and markets. Business in Focus spoke with Business Development and Marketing Manager, Nicole El-Sawaf and CEO and Founder, Willie Hendrickson.
In 1994 AVEKA, Inc. was founded by Willie Hendrickson as a 3M spin off. The company continued in the former 3M Corporate Research Particle Processing Facility providing particle processing R&D and small scale manufacturing for 3M and other industrial, personal care, aerospace, energy, and automotive based companies from Fortune 500 size to small startups.
The initial processing and research efforts were directed to the investigation of grinding, classification, spray drying, prilling, agglomeration, and particle microencapsulation for the cosmetic, chemical, ceramics, and plastics industries. As the company has grown it has developed other areas of expertise: tray and roll drying, liquid and dry blending, evaporation and extraction, dispersion processing and characterization for markets such as food, nutraceuticals, agriculture, pet food and consumer good sectors. “We do anything from food to cosmetics to industrial chemicals, to just about anything in between.”
Over the past twenty-one years it has become obvious while AVEKA does supply a unique service blend of research and pilot scale processing, their customers have a continuing interest in seeing a complete R&D to pilot scale to manufacturing operation available to them. In 1996 AVEKA identified and purchased an AMPI Cheese Plant in Fredericksburg, IA and converted the plant to a particle processing facility where full-scale manufacturing was supported. In 2001 AVEKA purchased a Foremost Dairy Plant in Cresco, IA where AVEKA has filled the plant with food production business such as spray drying, roll drying, blending, and grinding. In 2012 AVEKA purchased two additional facilities, another Foremost Dairy Plant in Waukon, IA and CCE Technologies in Cottage Grove, MN.
“AVEKA expanded manufacturing capacity in two ways. It has purchased empty buildings and put equipment in it to start a new company or it has purchased a related business like CCE Technologies which uses a technology called jet milling (a specialized type of grinding). This acquisition worked well for AVEKA because it put dollars at our top line and profits at our bottom line from the start.” That was the first time AVEKA purchased an existing company.
“The company’s fifteen percent growth over the last decade is staggering.” AVEKA has attributed the growth to three main factors.
First, AVEKA is known for its flexibility. A company had approached AVEKA on four occasions, wanting to work together, but AVEKA simply did not have the right equipment and were not familiar with the particular material. The customer asked that AVEKA come to see the manufacturing procedures, believing that AVEKA could do it. After the engineers had gone to look at the pilot plants, the decision was made to go forward with the project with a budget of about $2 million. AVEKA agreed to pay a rebate on a per pound basis and said it could be done in eighteen weeks – an ambitious estimate because it also meant building an expansion to the current facility! The contract was signed, and the project was completed in eighteen weeks and one day.
“The customer was shocked at the fact that we came through so quickly, and they did not even have the raw materials ready yet. That flexibility to be able to do something in rapid fashion is unheard of! We don’t cut corners, but we have a very focused engineering group. We have a real drive and desire to build our company.”
Secondly, continued reliability in combination with AVEKA’s unique service offerings has gained AVEKA a solid reputation in the industry that is reflected in its consistent growth of fifteen percent per year over the last decade. This type of growth has meant that the management structure has had to change along with the engineering, quality control systems and the facilities. The company has been in a constant state of flux, but reliability has always been the defining characteristic.
Thirdly, and most importantly, AVEKA’s growth is attributed to providing customers a quality one-stop source for innovation, product development and manufacturing. Developing strong relationships allows AVEKA to focus on strengths of innovation and manufacturing. To this end AVEKA is ISO:9001, FDA, Organic, Kosher, ABI and FSSC Certified (depending on the company site) and have a detailed Project Management Team that works with customers to provide the focus and contacts with the R&D and Production personnel.
“AVEKA has seen consistent growth because each customer who calls is treated like a key account. Contract manufacturing of engineered particles coupled with AVEKA’s flexibly, reliability and customer centric business model, the applications are virtually endless.”